In Sierra Leone, sex be­tween men is il­le­gal but not sex be­tween women

Diva (UK) - - Contents - ELEANOR MARGOLIS GOES TRAV­EL­LING WITH HER “FRIEND” @Eleanor­mar­go­lis

Pack your bags for a ro­man­tic week­end with your “friend”

Some­times, I can go for days without re­mem­ber­ing I’m gay. On those days, I’m just a per­son – who hap­pens to be at­tracted to women – go­ing about her rea­son­ably quiet life. Buy­ing toi­let pa­per. Hoover­ing. Eat­ing cheese in bed.

Then, some­thing will usu­ally re­mind me. An off glance in the street, on one of my more butch days. The lat­est news on how Theresa “Friend O’gays” May is throw­ing us un­der the great honk­ing, ho­mo­pho­bic DUP bus. Some­thing that says, even safe inside my lib­eral London bub­ble, cush­ioned by Facebook sta­tuses about queer ve­gan dis­cos, I am other. Lately, the thing that has re­minded me of this the most has been try­ing to make travel plans.

“What about Sene­gal?” says my girl­friend. I Google “Sene­gal gay rights”. “Well,” I say, “Up to five years in prison for hav­ing sex.” “Ah,” she says. My girl­friend’s pre­ferred travel des­ti­na­tion is some­where with a slight edge. Some­where, I keep on telling her, she might die in the cross­fire of a civil war or a drug deal gone bad. That’s not how she sees it though. For her, most peo­ple are good, but a hol­i­day isn’t a hol­i­day without at least a small chance of get­ting on the wrong side of one of the bad ones. But, hav­ing been in a long re­la­tion­ship with a man be­fore me, she’s never re­ally con­sid­ered the risks of trav­el­ling while gay. She re­alises how priv­i­leged she was with her ex. And, in spite of her slight thing for dan­ger, I’m pretty sure she has no in­ten­tion of get­ting the two of us in le­gal trou­ble for be­ing a cou­ple.

It’s not, of course, that we sim­ply can’t go to any of these places. We’d just have to go easy on the PDA, book ho­tel rooms with sep­a­rate beds, pre­tend to be gal pals (for the love of god…) etc. The thing is though – I’m not sure I want to do any of that. I take my right to walk down the street hold­ing her hand for granted. And that’s how it should be. And, as a tourist, I have the lux­ury of pick­ing and choos­ing des­ti­na­tions I can con­tinue to do so. With ev­ery one of her sug­ges­tions for an ex­cit­ing trip, I Google the coun­try and “gay rights”. Time af­ter time, I’m left think­ing about just how grotesquely lucky I am to be a cit­i­zen of a coun­try where my sex­u­al­ity is not only le­gal, but – for now at least – pro­tected from dis­crim­i­na­tion.

But it’s ed­u­ca­tional, at least; all this de­press­ing Googling. When she sug­gested Sierra Leone, for ex­am­ple, I learnt that sex be­tween two men is il­le­gal there, but not sex be­tween two women. Which put me in the un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion of be­ing a lit­tle bit of­fended that les­bian­ism isn’t il­le­gal be­cause – I can only haz­ard a guess – gay sex isn’t taken se­ri­ously un­less some­thing is (nec­es­sar­ily…) go­ing in some­one’s butt (ho­mo­phobes al­ways seem ob­sessed with this…).

For my birth­day this year, we went on a week­end trip to the Lithua­nian cap­i­tal, Vil­nius. See­ing as Lithua­nia has one of the worst rep­u­ta­tions for LGBTQ rights in Europe, we spent a lot of the hol­i­day bick­er­ing about whether or not any kind of PDA was ac­cept­able. For ex­am­ple, when I bat­ted away my girl­friend’s hand as we walked down the street, was I be­ing xeno­pho­bic for as­sum­ing most Lithua­ni­ans are ho­mo­pho­bic? As it hap­pens, the first time we did hold hands we got stared down by a wan­der­ing herd of skin­heads. But – other than that – no­body re­ally seemed to no­tice.

We even tried to go to Vil­nius’s one gay bar, but found it to be an en­tic­ing com­bi­na­tion of in the mid­dle of nowhere and shut. Which was a huge shame see­ing as I’ve never been to a queer venue in an ex-soviet state and, now, maybe never will.

Then, at the end of the trip, in our re­view on Airbnb, our very friendly and ac­com­mo­dat­ing host­ess re­ferred to us as “friends”. And never has the word “friend” served as such a stark and un­wel­come re­minder that I’m gay.

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